Locating – The Great Outdoors

For me, it’s always the chickadees that mark the coming of spring. After months of cold gray silence, the distinctive “hey, pretty” calls will be there all at once on some random Tuesday morning when I’m taking out the garbage. A few weeks later, the frogs make themselves known likewise seeming to rise up out of nowhere to suddenly lull me to sleep in the evening.

The months that follow are marked by a long string of days when indoor workers gaze longingly outside, steal a few moments in the sun at lunchtime, and mark the hours until they can get home and finally enjoy the last moments of what was another fine day to be outdoors.

When I used to regularly interview new hires, I’d routinely hear from people who’d only ever worked inside say how much they were looking forward to a job where they could finally get outside. My company even put it in an ad one year, “Tired of flickering fluorescent lights?”, we teased. “Come work for us.”

During the interview of course, I’d ask if they’d really thought about what it meant to work outdoors. Everyone longs to be outside when it’s nice. Not everyone can stand a job that requires them to be out when it’s not. It’s like the line from that old Waylon Jennings song “be careful of something that’s just what you want it to be.”

The life of a locator is ruled by an ever-ticking clock, an unforgiving countdown timer that says you’re breaking the law if you don’t finish your work on time. And that timer doesn’t care if it’s raining, or freezing, or if the heat is so bad the asphalt under your feet has gone gummy. In my first year of locating, I got sunburned, windburned, dehydrated, chafed, puckered, pinched, stung, soaked, and blistered. I also sprained my ankle (a near annual occurrence) and sunk my minivan up to the door sills in a thick brown mud the consistency of brownie batter (when the tow truck driver came to winch me free, he took one look at it and made me attach the cable myself).

The year after that I became a supervisor and had to fend off a mutiny after it rained every day for three weeks straight in the height of the spring rush. That was the year I got my first boot dryer. Although it was nice not to have to slip my feet into the previous day’s cold clammy boots, there was little we could do to keep our receivers from succumbing to the never-ending damp. In the end, we resorted to covering the display panels with clear packing tape every morning for an extra layer of protection.

As someone who’s made their living outdoors for most of my life, there have been some days when an inside job looked pretty inviting, but not today. Not when the chickadees are singing and the spring sun is high in a clear blue sky. For now, the forecast looks pretty good!

Christopher Koch is a training consultant and President of ZoneOne Locating. He is past president of Nulca and worked on both the 2009 and 2015 revisions to the Nulca Professional Competency Standard. He can be reached by email at Christopherkoch@live.com or on Twitter @kochauthor.